Archdiocese Says Priest Should Pay

By J. Michael Parker
Express-News Religion [San Antonio TX]
February 18, 2003

The Archdiocese of San Antonio wants a jury in a sexual abuse lawsuit to assess any damages against the offending priest, not the archdiocese.

Julia Phelps is scheduled to be in court today in her lawsuit against Father Michael Kenny and the archdiocese.

Phelps alleges the archdiocese didn't monitor Kenny, who admitted to long-term sexual relationships with her and several other women and to fathering two children.

The archdiocese filed court documents last week saying Kenny is responsible for his own actions.

"Basically, if the jury finds guilt, we're saying that (Kenny) ought to pay the damages, not the archdiocese," said Deacon Pat Rodgers, archdiocesan communications director.

Actual testimony isn't expected until late Wednesday in the lawsuit before 73rd District Judge Andy Mireles, said Doug Sutter, Phelps' Houston attorney.

Kenny had denied Phelps' accusations in 1993, and the archdiocese insists that she didn't make her complaint directly to church officials until mid-2000. By then, Kenny had been suspended after admitting allegations brought by another woman, Jerrilynn Marie White.

White filed suit and that case is set for trial in September.

In an unrelated case, the archdiocese declined to take action against an unidentified female school staff member after allegations surfaced that 25 years ago she gave liquor to a minor student at Incarnate Word High School and had a sexual relationship with the girl.

The former teacher, who taught at Incarnate Word but now holds a staff position at another archdiocese school, has denied the allegation.

Rodgers said the woman's name won't be released because no criminal, civil or administrative action has been taken against her.

Diane Farias, 39, said she made the allegations against the former teacher. Farias said Monday that she has mailed more than 300 letters warning parents of students at the school of her allegation.

She said she was sexually abused multiple times while she was 15 and 16 years old, sometimes at the school and other times at the teacher's home.

The San Antonio Express-News generally does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims, but Farias chose to be identified.

"We found the accuser to be credible and have great compassion for her situation," Rodgers said. "We also find, however, the former teacher's denial is equally credible."

He added it would be unjust to remove the former teacher without sufficient supporting evidence.

"We cannot have a policy that calls for an honest investigation on one hand, and then deny and nullify its findings when the facts gathered do not give us a clear cause of action against the party involved," Rodgers said.

That's not acceptable, Farias said.

"They have one credible allegation. Under their new policy, they're supposed to take action against the person. My concern is the same as the concern of that policy - the safety of children. I feel those children (at the accused's new school) are at risk," she said.

But Rodgers said allegations must be provable to be acted on. Even if criminal charges were filed, he said, the state couldn't punish her without proving its case.

Officials at the current school referred questions to Rodgers.

In another misconduct matter, Rodgers said a lawsuit filed by Hector Escalante was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.

Escalante, a former employee at St. Matthew's Parish, claimed that Monsignor Michael Yarborough kissed him on the lips and groped him during an incident in the priest's office in 1998, when Escalante was 27.

Yarborough denied the groping. He admitted kissing Escalante but said that Escalante misunderstood the gesture, which the priest described as "normal" among men in his family.

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